They Said it Couldn't Be Done: IDG Pulls Off an Apple-less Expo Hit

It is a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy: Exhibitors and attendees believe that without Apple, there is no reason to attend Macworld Expo. Without exhibitors and attendees, Macworld Expo cannot succeed.

Macworld dies. Prophecy fulfilled.

Imagine a different reality for a minute, though. Apple doesn't attend, so exhibitors, no longer competing with the company, get more exposure than ever. Attendees, who have already seen Apple's latest offerings, get to focus on the other companies plying their wares. They get to attend conference sessions where instructors have already seen and perhaps have been able to examine those new offerings -- in addition to the subjects they've long been preparing to explore. The giant spotlight of attention that previously belonged almost exclusively to Apple can now shine brightly on the periphery of the Mac universe.

Macworld thrives. Prophecy of doom averted.

I wrote those words several weeks ago, and as Macworld Conference and Expo 2010 wraps up, it seems clear to me that the prophecy of doom has not only been averted, it has been kicked in the privates, dragged into a back alley and hit repeatedly about the head and shoulders with a lead pipe. Macworld 2010 not only thrived, it flourished -- and any doubts (including my own) about whether there will be a Macworld 2011 should be well laid to rest.

The question about what effect Apple's absence would have on the show hung like a pall over the Moscone Center. Until the show floor opened, that is. From that point on, I literally heard not one vendor or attendee even mention Apple -- at least until I asked about it. It was simply a non-issue, lost in the bustling crowds on the show floor; stomped on by rows of people four or five deep trying to get into exhibitor's booths.

It will be interesting to see how the show is reported on. Try this experiment: if you see "news" articles about the show being a "disappointment," try to determine whether the piece was written by someone actually at the show, or by someone "reporting" remotely. It's not going out too far on a limb to predict that many of the stories of Macworld Expo doom and gloom were written long before the show even started, by people who would never let the facts get in the way of validating their own predictions, shaped -- even inadvertently -- by their own prejudices. No, dear reader, give more credence to the articles written by people who saw the show first hand.

For the exhibitors who stuck their necks out and attended this year's show, the rewards appear to be big. They managed the greatest of marketing coups -- taking the mindshare right out from under the noses of their competitors. Without exception, every exhibitor I spoke with said they were happy with the traffic their booth was getting; many claimed it was on par with previous expos. None said they were not planning to come back again next year.

For the exhibitors who decided to wait this one out, the ball is their court. It is, bluntly, "put up or shut up time." Some wanted to see if IDG could pull off a successful show without Apple. They could and did. It's time now for them to get back on board, or lose ground to their competition and credibility and awareness with their customers. Some (I was not among them) claimed that these vendors had an obligation to attend this year's show in order to support Macworld Expo and the Mac community. Next year, though, those same vendors will need to be here in order to support themselves.

Earlier in the week, some of the IDG folks asked me how I thought the show felt. "It feels like Macworld," was the best way I could put it. There were enthusiastic people looking at cool Mac and Apple-related products. In retrospect, I'll go just a little further. It felt like Day Two and later of Macworld Expo, after the buzz from Apple's opening keynote faded. The initial attention to the Apple Keynote never really lasted much past the first day, and other than the absence of a new Apple product under glass to gawk at, the show floor felt largely the same.

In some ways, I genuinely preferred the fact that some vendors opted out of this year's show. Printer manufacturers always had large booths to show new versions of printers that no one really seemed to care all that much about. Large software companies have had less and less to show over the past several years other than incremental updates to their flagship products. The real excitement has come from the smaller shops -- the one-or-two-trick-pony outfits that find a cool approach to something or a solution the market has never imagined before and wowed us. These are the nimble companies where the fun and interesting things are really happening. The absence of the monster booths has made those smaller outfits easier to find. And while that's undoubtedly good for them, it's even better for us -- the attendees on the prowl for something we haven't already heard about on the web or stumbled upon in the App store.

And while Apple's absence no doubt provided the IDG World Expo staff with plenty of sleepless nights, it seems to have been a liberating experience as well. Freed from Apple's reins, IDG has done some very imaginative things with this year's show, from Conference Sessions that had nothing to do with using Macs, to mobile showcase pavilions that put into the spotlight applications that might not have otherwise gotten noticed among the 139,999 entries in the App Store, to feature presentations that may not have given us "one more thing," but left us with terrific insights and sides that ached from laughing. Now that the question of whether the show can survive is hopefully off the table, I'm eager to see what other enhancements to the show they can pull out of their collective sleeve.

Whatever Apple's motives were for pulling out of Macworld Expo, it may have left us with one thing that I'm sure was unintentional: a better Macworld Expo.